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Banned!

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[Banned game box]

I am able to tell the world the exact reasons why Phantasmagoria has been banned in Australia and all the steps involved in this unfortunate process. Prominently presented below is a verbatim summary of the reasons for refusal to classify the game (thereby making its importation, sale, hire, and demonstration illegal) provided by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC / Government censors). This was my first acquired classification of Phantasmagoria related official document. A similar document is produced for every film and computer game the OFLC rates, whether it is banned or not. While being very direct and informative, this particular summary sheet did not answer all my questions, so I applied for more information under the Freedom of Information Act (1982). After over year of torturous applications and appeals, here is the full official chronology of the Australian banning of Phantasmagoria...

Phantasmagoria Designer Roberta Williams' justification for the main scene that got her
game banned in Australia

Other "dangerous games"

A submission I sent to the Australian Government concerning my opposition to the continuing excesses of computer games censorship

[Dot]

This information ceased to be updated on 1 January 1998.
For current general information concerning computer games censorship in Australia,
please consult my Games Censorship Collection Web site.





[Dot]The banning of Phantasmagoria - step by step[Dot]


31 July 1995
Australian computer games distributor Sega-Ozisoft applied to the OFLC to have a beta version of Phantasmagoria classified. This version was clearly not suitable for commercial release had it been approved. The application was three pages long and one page contained pictures (possibly standard Phantasmagoria promotional material or a magazine article). The company might have thought it had a chance of getting the game passed with an "MA (15+)" rating because, at that time, the true rigidity and inflexibility of the computer games ratings guidelines was not fully realised (after all, there is no way Phantasmagoria would be banned if it were a film). According to Australian law, all films and computer games must be officially classified and permitted for distribution by Commonwealth (Government) censors prior to being made available to the public. Under no circumstances would a large, law-abiding company flout this important legal requirement.


9 August 1995
Evaluation of this beta version resulted in the production of the following document. Three classifiers were involved, producing 14 pages of handwritten working notes and 8 pages of individual reports after watching these contentious incidents that were, of course, dutifully pointed out in Sega-Ozisoft's classification application :

CLASSIFICATION BOARD

PHANTASMAGORIA
C95/177


VOTING: UNANIMOUS
DECISION: REFUSE

SYNOPSIS: A complete version of that screened and Refused on the 9th Aug 1995.

COMMENT: In the Board's opinion, this complete version CD-ROM game warrants a Refuse under the computer games guidelines for one scene of simulated sexual activity between consenting adults and one scene of simulated sexual activity that contains strong overtones of sexual violence.

Under the Computer Games Classification Guidelines;
"simulated or explicit depictions of sexual acts between consenting adults" and,
"any depiction of sexual violence or sexual activity involving non-consent of any kind" warrants Refuse.

Chapter One of the seven disc game shows a male and a female, earlier identified as man and wife, in bed after the woman awakes from a nightmare. The husband consoles her; this subsequently develops into a short scene of simulated waist up thrusting intercourse, revealing a side view of the woman's bare breast as she lays atop her partner.

In chapter four, a bathroom scene shows the woman in a negligee at a mirror combing her hair. The husband walks up behind her, strokes her hair, and runs his hand over her clothed breast. Angry from a prior scene argument, she brushes his hand away. He continues his advances until they both willingly embrace and kiss. This is shown with soft background music.

The husband lifts her under her armpits, carries her to the bathroom wall, continues kissing her and the camera closes in on his hand lifting her clothes. At this point, the music changes tempo and tone, becoming darker and thumping. The man's face is shown with an evil expression, eyes glaring wide as he holds the woman's hands up above her head on the wall behind her. He is shown to begin a vigorous thrusting motion, simulating intercourse. The woman's face is seen in close up, crying and scared, shaking her head from side to side during what, at that point, begins to look like a sexual attack.

While the narrative structure has by this stage clearly indicated that evil forces are influencing the husband's actions and, that the game play is such that the player's role as the wife is to prevent this from happening to herself and her husband, the above guidelines do not contain anything that allows contextual justification considerations by the Board.

Thus, the unanimous decision of the Board is that the game warrants Refuse under the Computer Games Classification Guidelines.


22 August 1995
Edward Larrosa on behalf of Sega-Ozisoft [200 Coward Street. Cnr of O'Riordan Street. Mascot NSW 2020. Phone: (02) 317 0006 Fax: (02) 317 0020] applied to the OFLC to have the release version of Phantasmagoria classified. This application was made because the decision handed down on 9 August 1995 related solely to the commercially unexploitable beta version of the game.

24 August 1995
The OFLC received Sega-Ozisoft's application for classification of the release version of Phantasmagoria.

25 August 1995
The OFLC issued a Certificate of Refusal to Approve the Classification of a Computer Game for the beta version of Phantasmagoria. It was signed by Andree Wright, Acting Deputy Chief Censor. At the same time, on the other side of the world in the USA, Phantasmagoria was released as a mainstream computer game product that was widely available and popular among many age groups - from teenagers upwards. In Australia, it was banned to all age groups under Section 25A (3) of the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983 (as amended) - the precursor of the Commonwealth Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. It was still up to the individual States and Territories to decide if ACT classification decisions were to apply within their own borders. As such, Phantasmagoria was sold in some parts of the country but not in others.

28 August 1995
The OFLC sent Sega-Ozisoft the above mentioned Certificate of Refusal.

5 September 1995
Examination of the release version of Phantasmagoria was undertaken by the OFLC. No less than seven classification officials were involved. They were once again unanimous in their decision to ban the game for the same reasons as before even after having had it demonstrated to them by a representative from Sega-Ozisoft on the company's own computer equipment where large portions were played up to the most contentious incident mentioned above and beyond. The decision and reasons provided for the Refusal on 9 August 1995 were completely upheld. The censors became aware of other contentious scenes (murders and non-sexual violence) not mentioned in Sega-Ozisoft's applications, but those mentioned above are more than enough to ban a computer game in Australia - thus the other scenes were not cited in a revised summary sheet.

13 September 1995
The OFLC issued a Certificate of Refusal to Approve the Classification of a Computer Game for the release version of Phantasmagoria. It is very similar to the one issued earlier on 25 August 1995 apart from the fact that it mentions that the game has also been banned pursuant to Section 4 of the Queensland Classification of Computer Games and Images (Interim) Act 1995 and was this time signed by John Dickie, Chief Censor.

25 October 1995
My own copy of Phantasmagoria arrived in the mail from a State where its sale was legal. That State had not yet passed legislation that confirmed the OFLC's authority to ban certain games within its territory.

Late 1995
Sega-Ozisoft tried to have the ban on Phantasmagoria repealed by appealing to various censorship and legal authorities. They were unsuccessful because the OFLC acted lawfully in its action against that title. What needs to be changed is not the OFLC but the highly restrictive guidelines they are required to follow when classifying computer games. Sega-Ozisoft considered applying to the OFLC for reclassification of Phantasmagoria if and when the guidelines are changed. Many of the copies of Phantasmagoria imported by Sega-Ozisoft are sold but, of course, more slowly than expected due to an understandably limited collection of retail outlets. While this sort of injustice continues, Australian game distribution companies are missing out on potential profits and mature Australian computer gamers are missing out on easy access to the latest and greatest mainstream titles aimed at their interests.

By Early 1996
All Australian States and Territories passed legislation that allows the OFLC's decisions to be considered binding within their respective jurisdictions.

Early 1996
I began actively campaigning for change to Australia's computer games classification legislation and associated guidelines mainly as a result of the OFLC's banning of Phantasmagoria.

April 1997
The Roberta Williams Anthology was submitted to the OFLC for classification. It contains the full versions of many Roberta Williams games plus part of Phantasmagoria. The Phantasmagoria component of the package is what brought about the banning of the entire Anthology. Once again, the reason was for "sexual violence", but this time, I do not believe that the full story is being told. It is my understanding that the Anthology contains only chapter one of Phantasmagoria...nothing else. This would preclude it from containing the sexual violence aspect of the introduction to chapter four. Perhaps, then, the issue was really over the consenting sex scene from the Game Introduction? Perhaps, but I have no proof that that scene was included in the demo contained within the Anthology. Most disturbing of all, it is possible that the OFLC did not even bother to take a look at what part of Phantasmagoria the Anthology actually contains. If it is only chapter one and nothing else, then there is no material contained within that is not allowed in a computer game in Australia. Maybe the demo was considered advertising? Advertising of banned computer games is prohibited. The full story is not being told and may never be properly revealed.




[Dot] Commentary [Dot]


It comes as a great surprise to me that the considerable non-sexual violence shown in Phantasmagoria involving many deaths as opposed to assaults did not even warrant a mention in the banning process. One could always say that the mere fact the game depicts what appears to be rape would warrant its Refusal but this assertion ignores the restriction on any depiction of simulated or explicit sexual activity in a computer game. In other words, Phantasmagoria would quite probably have been banned on the basis of the contentious scene from "Chapter One" (actually the Game Introduction) alone! Discreet simulated sexual assault scenes similar to the one mentioned above have actually been shown in the unrestricted "M" (recommended for ages 15 and up) rated mainstream movies Rob Roy and Bram Stoker's Dracula, and even in the popular "PG" rated television soap opera Melrose Place (season four, episodes 5 and 30). I am practically speechless with disgust that the government of a supposedly free and democratic country in the closing years of the twentieth century can treat its mature, responsible adult citizens with such hypocritical contempt. Simulated activities permitted in one form of entertainment media must be allowed in the other forms of media. What applies to TV and movies must also apply to computer games.

What is heartening though, is the implied wish in the above summary that the Board could take into account the context in which the depicted sexual acts take place (both are non-interactive like in the movies and the player's character is a victim rather than a villain in the second incident). They, like me, realise that the controversial scenes in Phantasmagoria are indeed contextually justified and the highly restrictive Guidelines need to be adjusted to allow for this fact in future. Thus, I will continue to do what I can to have the Guidelines amended to allow for adult-oriented computer games to eventually be permitted for sale in my country.

In conclusion, please read An Ode to the Ban It Mentality. This Australian poem taken from a newspaper clipping is now over a decade old but still retains its potency as the issues it raises are once again highly relevant for my country. In addition to the continuing anti-computer games hysteria that is mentioned throughout this Web subsite, the placement of further restrictions on movies, videos, and television programs containing violence is once again on the Government's agenda. Rumours of imminent crackdowns persist while the public is being left in the dark about our politicians' true intentions....


An Ode to the Ban It Mentality

by
B. Bartlett


So the authorities want to ban
All movies and videos that are
X-rated or contain violence?

That is fair enough.

After all, the average adult
Has no idea of what he or she likes.

When all the movies containing
Violence or sex are gone, we will have
Good entertainment to watch,
Like old John Wayne westerns...

Wait a minute - he shoots people!
Ban them too.

We will still have comedy.
Oh, oh!
The Three Stooges are hitting each other with hammers!
Ban them!

Let's watch some cartoons. Yuk!
That cat just ate Tweety Pie.
How sick!
No more cartoons.

There's still the evening news.
Wrong! It's full of violence -
Ban it!

Who needs TV anyway?
We have the radio.

Wrong again! Violent news, and
We all know rock and roll is the work of the devil.
No more radio!

Better not go out driving.
The kids might see an accident -
So no more cars.

Let's stay at home and play some games.
Better not -
Whoever loses might become violent.

Well, it looks like an early night.
No way!
We all know what goes on in the bedroom -
BAN IT!

No more babies within a matter of years.
The human race ceases to exist.
At least one good thing came out of it all -
Total world peace.


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Contents

Title - Introduction - Gameplay - Plot Synopsis - Sound and Visual Effects - Main Characters - Censorship Issues - Miscellanea

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(larme@hotmail.com)

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